The Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans look like they're going in opposite directions, but it's a clean slate in the playoffs, as they're set to face off in a Wild Card matchup.
In just the fourth time since the current playoff format was introduced, teams in the Wild Card are meeting in back-to-back seasons. The Houston Texans will take on the Cincinnati Bengals, and fortunately for the former, history is on their side. In all three previous instances, the team that won the first game also won the following game.
A season ago, the Texans absolutely dominated the Bengals, winning 31-10. The Texans intercepted three passes and had four sacks, and halted the Bengals before they could ever get started.
Fortunately for the Bengals, if there's anything to this whole "momentum," thing, they could have a leg-up on the competition. After a four-game losing streak from Week 5 through Week 9, they rallied to win seven of their last eight games, including their last three. The Texans, on the other hand, were one of the hottest teams in the NFL, before losing three of their last four, including their last two.
Meet the Texans
Houston made franchise history in 2011, as it was the first time they'd ever made the playoffs, entering as a Wild Card. The Texans looked to increase their standing this time around, and many felt they were well on their way at the start of the season. At one time, it was down to them and the Atlanta Falcons for the best team in the NFL, but in recent weeks, they've become a secondary headline.
Still, this season hasn't been a failure by any means. If they dominated the Bengals through defense the first time around, they've shown all year that such an outcome isn't unlikely in the slightest. J.J. Watt has become the headline name, and he's been making plays in every aspect of the game. If he can disrupt the Bengals like he has been doing all season, the Texans will be in a great position.
Meet the Bengals
If the Bengals players are smart, they won't pay any attention to Cincinnati's playoff woes. Their last win in the playoffs was a 41-14 victory over the Houston Oilers in the 1990 playoffs. They've lost four straight postseason games since then, and are 0-5 on the road all-time in the postseason on top of that.
Fortunately, Andy Dalton now has some playoff experience under his belt, and his playmakers around him have rallied in recent outings. They're playing great football at precisely the right time, and that can only help them against a team that was considered the best in the NFL at one point this season.
Local Takes: Texans
Over at Battle Red Blog, they take a look at how disappointing the last few weeks have been:
Considering what transpired with the Broncos and Patriots, the Texans will not have a first round bye. How about that? Only two weeks ago, we were looking at a high probability of not just a first round bye, but also a number one seed. The only thing the team needed to do was beat either Minnesota or Indianapolis. Instead, they lost both in embarrassing fashion.
Local Takes: Bengals
Over at Cincy Jungle, they recognize the Bengals are facing an uphill battle with their recent history, but believe they can buck the trends:
Considering this iteration of the Bengals has established a tendency to break trends (beating the Bills, Jaguars in Jacksonville, Seahawks in Seattle, consecutive seasons with a winning record and postseason qualification), Cincinnati has two big ones this weekend. They've never won a playoff game on the road (league worst 0-5 tied with the Saints) and haven't won a playoff game in nearly 23 years.
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The Texans are favored, but that isn't the be-all, end-all. They're also playing at home, and for odds-makers, this could mean a swing of about four points, so this one, for all intents and purposes, is an even matchup. Houston has really looked pedestrian of late, while the Bengals have looked sharp and prepared. Let's go with Cincinnati to score the "upset" in this one.
The pick: Bengals win, 24-17
Houston opened at 4.5-point favorites to take home the win, though some books have them at four points, according to OddsShark.